A Big ‘Day in the Life’: Dog Catcher Normal.

 The Big Day: Caution, this is the Real World. If you are squeamish you might want to skip it.
One morning I was doing euthanasia just like every other morning. The night before a 125 pound St. Bernard X Pit Bull was brought in by his owner along with a 14 week old puppy of similar breeding. The adult dog was intact. The owner handled him rather gingerly and gave as a reason for surrendering the dog that he couldn’t control him. Not a big deal. The next morning, however, I decided that we didn’t need either one of them to be adopted. If that sounds cold, it is. For the last three years working in shelters I was killing about a ton of animals a month, personally. I was purely objective about which dogs I killed, when. Full kennels lead to sick dogs so you keep them half-full at most. Each day, strays became adoptable as their owners failed to reclaim them. Strays were impounded daily and there was no way to predict how many might arrive at any moment. To manage a shelter you have to keep it ready to accept 20-30 dogs at any given moment.

Round 1: After putting down about five or six dogs, including a female Corgi in heat, I went to the far kennel and got the St. Bernard X Pit. I never liked rabies poles – AKA control sticks. I preferred not declaring war right off the bat. So I put him on a slip-lead and marched him toward the area we used for euthanasia – a table in a branching aisle that led to the appropriately named “Dead Room.” I was fine for about 20 feet and then he got a whiff of the dead Corgi smelling of all the things that arouse male dogs. The Pit Mix hit the end of the lead and broke free, straddled the Corgi and looked straight at me. I didn’t need my years of experience to psychically tell me what he was saying. It was all over his face as the low rumble of his growl hit my ears. “Well, punk, are you feeling lucky?” I wasn’t, but I had a very big problem on my hands that wasn’t going away unless I figured out what to do.


Megan to the Rescue:

I I apologize for a necessary break in the action. The picture on the right is of the outside of the shelter where this all came down. These two dogs were trained by me to work as animal control dogs. To my knowledge no one else has ever trained urban animal control dogs, but my hat is off to anyone else who came up with the same solution. The dog in the picture on the left and the dog on the left in the right-hand picture is my Megan. She had her own kennel at our shelter for times when I had to be in the office or elsewhere. For more about her and how she caught dogs for a living, go here. http://clickandtreat.com/wordpress/?p=469

When I saw that I was cut off by the St. Bernard X Pit Bull with a very big attitude, I shouted to my fellow officer, Bonnie, to let Megan out of her kennel. Megan headed toward me, wiggling her tail and prancing. The Pit Mix was confused. He smelled “dog in heat” on the Corgi, but it wasn’t moving. Here was a moving dog that didn’t smell like “dog in heat.” He focused on Megan totally – and I slipped up and took the end of the slip lead lying on the ground. (My “now me” starts to get nervous when I relive the “then me” picking up that lead. I know that I did it but I have little memory of that action.) Now I had the dog on a lead, much like the guy who climbed a tree after a cougar and when asked if he’d caught him, replied, “Yes, I caught him, now I’m trying to figure out how to get him to let go of me.” I marched the dog toward the euthanasia area with a plan in mind that we commonly used for dogs that were too dangerous to handle closely.

Round 2: The process of quickly getting control of a very large, very intimidating and dangerous dog in a kennel is to slip the lead through a chain-link kennel door and go inside the kennel, closing the door behind you. If you look at the shackle-latch on the left, you’ll see a cheap version of the mechanism. The curved holder keeps the kennel door shut by clasping the stationary tube secured to the concrete floor. Great concept. As I slipped the lead through the kennel door, the idea was for me to pull the lead to force the dog’s head against the chain link fencing. Then my lovely assistant could put a long needle into his heart. My job would be to keep him from whipping around and attacking Bonnie. We’d done it many times. That is the real world of euthanasia, by the way. Euthanasia is often a euphemism. To quote my first executive director in the humane industry, Doug Fakkema, sometimes it’s just killing. That is what this was shaping up to be. Then Murphy’s Law kicked in.

Knockout in the 3rd Round: As I pulled heavily on the lead to get the dog to come close to the fence, he pulled a jujitsu move and came with me in an attack. As he hit the kennel door, the shackle on the latch exploded into several hunks of metal flying through the air. Those shackles were much stronger that the one in the photo above, left. The kennel door swung inward, sandwiching me between the door and the chain link of the kennel behind me. It’s not supposed to work that way. The door is supposed to stay shut. Now the only thing stopping this dog from seriously ripping my face apart was my pulling upward as hard as I could on the lead. (That was his target – he was lunging upward repeatedly to bite me through the chain link) The pivot point was at about my waist level. As he jumped up, I pulled up, which pulled him downward. Think of a pulley in reverse. By pulling upward I created tension on the lead and pulled his head downward. That wasn’t necessarily a safe thing to do as it would have eventually given me belly wounds rather than facial wounds.

Now it gets interesting. I somehow pushed the door with my upper body while simultaneously continuing to pull upward with my arms and shoved the door closed. Now I was on the inside and he was on the outside. I jammed my foot under the steel pipe tube at the bottom of the door and was back in a position to be able to do what I started out to do. Bonnie had a kennel worker pull the dog’s hind leg back to stretch him out and I resisted his effort to turn on her. She hit a perfect heart-shot and he dropped like a bean-bag to the kennel floor. There isn’t any decent way to end that sequence with words. It was a day for someone to die and it wasn’t me. If you have never seen Pit Bull ferocity read this again and picture yourself in the same position. The entire sequence probably didn’t take more than two minutes, start to finish and the thrilling conclusion after we blasted into the kennel was likely less than 30 seconds. I don’t recommend living your life that fast. It takes an eternity. In this case the outcome was what I intended in the first place – I lived, he died. I didn’t lose sleep over it because he was simply 125 pounds of the 2,000 I was going to do that month.

One last comment. After she saved my bacon as a decoy, Megan was told to ‘down’ in the kennel aisle. She did throughout the entire sequence. I taught that before I was a trainer. If you are trainer and can’t do that, I suggest library science or fry-cook at Denny’s for a career.

2 thoughts on “A Big ‘Day in the Life’: Dog Catcher Normal.

  1. That was a heart pounding read. Thanks for sharing. I am very intrigued by your use of the dogs for animal control dogs. What types of behaviors did you use and how difficult was it to teach. What was their daily life like? I think it is a great idea and must take a very special dog to be able to accomplish such a job.

  2. Dear Paula, yes it was heart pounding. Fortunately it remained a closed system so it was circulatory rather than spurting outward.
    In the black and white picture above, you see me with Megan. I have a hand snare I my right hand. She could drive a dog toward me if it tried to run past and I could get it with the hand-snare as they focused on her. She could also simply go off-lead and attract a dog back toward me, where I remained motionless, usually low.

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing happened when she was about two-months into the job. She figured out what we were doing. In the van, she was my eyes. If she saw a dog she’d start to whine. Then, if she lost sight of a dog, she’d put her nose to the ground and track them. She taught me tracking over about 2 1/2 years of daily work. About five times she protected me physically and another dozen she threatened dogs or animals that were threatening me.

    The idea germinated from one simple observation. I was trying to catch a dog one day when another dog came by on leash. The stray instantly went over and started investigating the other dog. From there it was a simple process. The City of Everett, WA, let me try it but required that the dog be fully trained. So I trained her to the point where I could put her on a traffic median with cars going by and know she wouldn’t break. I trained her on a pistol range and in just about every situation.

    From the beginning, she lived with me 24/7, When I left Everett Animal Control, I took her with me. She was my wife’s hearing dog, my best demo dog and truly one-of-a-kind. She wasn’t unique, however, Any municipality that wanted to could implement the program. Her half-brother was the other dog we used. Remember, I wasn’t really a trainer at the time. If I could do it then, I would be able to do it now without any hunt-n-peck trial and error. You can read more about it, here. http://clickandtreat.com/wordpress/?p=469 or type “Megan” in the top search box on the blog. The article is titled, Megan: The Best Dog Trainer in History

Leave a Reply to Gary Wilkes Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *